By Talbert Toole
*Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. to reflect quotes by Sarah Croft, co-founder and current chair of the University of Mississippi Young Americans for Freedom chapter.
The University of Mississippi received backlash last week when the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics canceled an upcoming event featuring the Daily Wire’s Elisha Krauss. The local chapter of Young America’s Foundation—the principal outreach organization of the conservative movement—organized the event.
Krauss was slated to speak at the Center on Wednesday, Nov. 13; however, Krauss took to Twitter to announce that the Overby Center had indeed canceled the event which she stated was going to be specifically about freedom of speech.
“Funny that my speech was gonna be about the importance of free speech…even for those who we don’t agree with,” Krauss tweeted on Thursday.
The university’s Twitter account quickly reacted to Krauss stating the decision to cancel the event was made “unilaterally by two individuals on our campus.”
Both YAF and Y’all Politics released stories that frustrated the conservative base in the LOU community.
In a letter to the School of Journalism and New Media faculty and staff, Curtis Wilkie, an inaugural Overby fellow, stated the decision to cancel Krauss’ event was made solely by him.
“I made the decision alone, the same way I’ve made other decisions about the use of the Overby Auditorium without consulting anyone in the University administration,” Wilkie stated.
Since the Center’s inception in 2007, these types of decisions were based on a general, unwritten understanding Wilkie had with Charles Overby, chairman of the Overby Center and adjunct instructor of journalism at the university.
Because of ties with the Freedom Forum, a 501(c)(3) foundation, Wilkie noted the Center needed to guard against overtly partisan programs. He said he has turned down the Young Democrats, the Tea Party, and a former student’s interest in holding a “decidedly leftist program” at the Center.
Sarah Croft, co-founder and current chair of the University of Mississippi Young Americans for Freedom chapter, said the organization is not partisan in any way.
“We are filed as a 501(c)(3) so we are legally barred from being partisan We do not, have not, and will never engage in electioneering, campaigning, or backing any candidates and we do not identify with any political party,” she said.
“My only regret is that I wish I had offered to help YAF find another place for the meeting,” he said.
The next day, Wilkie said Greg Brock, senior Overby Fellow, assisted the organization with finding an alternate location for their event. Croft said it was actually Bradley Baker, director of the Ole Miss Student Union, and UM Provost Noel Wilkin who aided in finding another venue.
Wilkie said the Center agreed to the request initially because they thought it came from the Lott Public Policy program, a program he said they had worked closely with in the past.
“The email identified the sender as a student in the program,” he said.
“When I learned Thursday that the program was being advertised with a flier with political overtones, we found that the program’s sponsor was Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative group that has for many years been identified with Republican causes. I felt we had no choice but to say that they could not use our auditorium.”
Croft said she is still awaiting a response from Wilkie and Brock clarifying why the unwritten policy barrs YAF from hosting an event in the Overby Center.
“I think it is ridiculous that I received no further explanation and that Dr. Wilkie made this decision by himself two weeks after our reservation had been confirmed and less than a week before our event was scheduled,” she said. “We are a clearly non-partisan group and we are hosting a speech about free speech. There isn’t anything partisan about that.”
Wilkin told Hottytoddy.com that the university worked with the organization’s local chapter to resolve the matter.
“When others at the university (including the people in Student Affairs who work with student groups) learned about this, they worked with the Registered Student Organization, YAF, to ensure that they had a space for their event,” Wilkin said.
The event, which is a part of Young America’s Foundation’s Robert and Patricia Herbold Lecture Series, is scheduled to take place in Ole Miss’ Student Union Auditorium 124 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 13. It is free and open to the public.
“Thanks to Provost Wilkin and the team at the Student Union, our event will go on. They stood up for free speech on our campus when the organization devoted to protecting free speech would not,” Croft said.